The Kid (1921)
Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid" reminds us that there isn't a far stretch between comedy and tragedy. It's a film that designed to pluck your heartstrings and inevitably does.
Not entirely or even remotely original, "The Kid" is about a mother "cursed" with child. She doesn't have the money, the time, or the interest to raise a kid, yet she is stuck having one. The father of the child only appears once in the film, in an artists studio, looking upon the mother's picture, which he accidentally burns. Feeling no guilt over the lost picture, the father returns to his life and the mother is left with the child that she cannot care for.
At her wit's end, the mother places her child inside a car sitting outside what she hopes to be a wealthy person's house. Just as soon as she's gone, crying, two men steal the car and drive away with the baby inside.
They pause for a smoke and hear the child crying and quickly deposit it on the side of the road and leave it for someone else to care for. That someone else turns out to be a tramp (Chaplin). Charlie Chaplin often has himself playing a tramp, we see it in "Modern Times", "The Gold Rush" and now in "The Kid"...it's a character that he's familiar with. The emotions he's able to evoke with it are often very strong...can you really fault him for that?
As the tramp is taking his morning walk, he stumbles across the kid. He doesn't want to take care of it, but he's not willing to just leave the child to die so he tries to shrug the responsibility off onto someone else and it doesn't work.
The tramp is left with the child and he decides that he will turn his shabby apartment in the slums into a kid friendly room.
Five years later, the boy has grown. He is now played by Jackie Coogan, who shines as one of the first true child stars of the screen. Coogan gives a performance that is rarely rivaled and of the same caliber as Quvenzhané Wallis' turn in "Beasts of the Southern Wild". It's rare that you get such a seasoned performance from such a young performer.
Chaplin's film is not as straight-forward as his others are. There is much more going on here. There's the re-inrtoduction of the mother who has risen to stardom, dreamscapes, and an Oliver Twist-like racket.
The tramp and the young boy scam people into buying windows...supply and demand.
The long arm of the law is a very present figure in "The Kid" and is seen as incompetent and cruel...it wouldn't be the first time that this is how they are viewed in silent films.
"The Kid" isn't very long, it doesn't even reach an hour in length; but that gives plenty of time for Chaplin to lay on the sentimentality, which he is so very, very good at doing.
"The Kid" is one of Chaplin's most famous works; but I find that it is one of his weaker. This being said, I consider Chaplin to be one of the greatest directors ever, so a sub-par Chaplin film is better than your average movie by miles.
Posted by Micah Jones